MAC: Mines and Communities

The Quest for Responsible Small-scale Gold Mining

Published by MAC on 2010-02-15
Source: Earthworks

A new report from Earthworks is complimentary to a study on smallscale mining,  published by the International Council on Mining and Metals, which is critiqued on our site this week. See:

Earthworks compares the parameters and standards, set down by several groups, aimed at improving governance, employment practices, environmental regulation and human rights, at specific smallscale operations in a number of countries.

Both reports concentrate on the gold sector, which means that neither of them examines what it means to be so-called "unorganised" miners of coal, bauxite, building stone, sand et al, in other countries - notably China and India, where the largest number of such workers toil under often-appalling conditions.

Earthwork's key finding is that none of the groups it has examined meet all the necessary criteria by which they can claim the projects they support are fully certifiable as "ethical."

Whether such certification - backed in recent years by several big organisations, such as Oxfam and WWF, and a number of companies (like Newmont) - could actually be implemented in practice remains an important question.

Although Earthworks argues for a comprehensive form of certification, drawing from existing best practices, adding others, and fully compliant with the precautionary principles, it doesn't give prime place to truly independent, third party, verification of specific operations.

Arguably, while this is essential, it would also prove difficult to achieve in practice. It would demand the employment of thousands of qualified experts, prepared to make regular site visits and issue frequent monitoring reports, and without their being dependent on potentially comprising corporate funding.

If we don't accept the ICMM prescription that the future of ASM lies predominantly in the hands of government and companies, then the obvious alternative is to empower smallscale miners to gain and assert their own rights.

In the process they are likely to improve their health, gain some economic stability, and be given access to buyers and processers of their products, willing to pay a "fair" price. Clearly some NGO's are equipped to do this.

But conflict may still arise over continued "bad practices" by self-organised groups of miners on the ground, and the higher standards set by those wanting to assist them.

Considering the parlous circumstances under which hundreds of thousands of these mineworkers have to eke out a livelihood, it would be foolhardy and indeed unjust, to demand that they all meet higher expectations virtually over night.

Both the micro approach of the projects examined by Earthworks, and the macro one adopted by ICMM, offer some alleviation in the short term.

However, we might well ask why - given the attention organised mineworkers have paid over the past decade to mapping out "just transition" from their often-degrading work in the service of ultimately doomed industries (notably coal) - more thought isn't being given to providing similar alternatives for their sothren and brethren in the informal sector.

[Comment by Nostromo Research, 14 February 2010]

New report on responsible ASM

Earthworks Press Release

11 February 2010

Please find a new EARTHWORKS report about artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) of gold and precious metals, "The Quest for Responsible Small-scale Gold Mining," at

The report compares standards of initiatives aiming for responsibility in ASM of precious metals.

EARTHWORKS and the No Dirty Gold campaign offer the report as a contribution to the work of the metals Working Group of the Madison Dialogue.

The following is the summary from the report (download the report at

"As currently practiced, artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) of metals can have destructive impacts on communities and the environment. Adopting principles and standards for responsible ASM practices may allow miners to minimize harmful impacts and allow ASM to provide a net benefit to communities. A number of initiatives have sought to determine what those responsible practices should be and how they can be

In order to provide some guidance and suggestions to existing and new initiatives, we have compared common and leading principles or standards of multiple initiatives working towards developing more responsible artisanal and small-scale metals mining practices. We selected the voluntary initiatives from the following institutions for this
Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) / Fairtrade Labeling Organizations (FLO)
CRED Jewellery
Fair Trade in Gems and Jewelry
Mammoth Tusk Gold (MTG)
Oro Verde
URTH Solution

No single initiative that we examined represented precautionary, comprehensive, best practice standards for all of the aspects of small-scale mining that we considered. Each of the initiatives had points for which it was closer to representing best practice, and points where it was further from best practice. Although it can be difficult to compare across initiatives that include retailer-based and mine site- or certification-based efforts, the comparison of standards suggests improvements that could be made in the initiatives.

All of the initiatives would benefit from strong standards on biodiversity, energy use, and involvement of principle stakeholders in development of standards.

The stronger points from all of these initiatives, in combination with the precautionary principle and known best practice, could be combined to form a composite of best practice in responsible small-scale gold mining. Such a certification system would include practices such as respecting human rights; obtaining community consent; guaranteeing revenue sharing and transparency; not operating in areas of armed conflict; respecting workers' rights and health and safety standards; not using mercury or other toxic chemicals; and not operating in protected areas, among others. Traceability and third-party verification of compliance would provide further assurance of responsible sourcing."

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